Bread and Butter

C.P. Taylor

Southwark Playhouse

(2001)

Review by Philip Fisher

All too often, visits to Fringe theatres can be very disappointing. The play can be a bad selection, the director inexperienced or the acting ordinary. It is therefore a cause for even greater than usual pleasure when a fringe production gets everything right.

C.P. Taylor is best known for Good, his attack on fascism that was revived at the Donmar last year. Bread and Butter is largely unknown but has been recovered from oblivion by the incredibly young but prodigious director, Mark Rosenblatt. It is a real gem and we should all be grateful for its rediscovery.

It combines the lives of its four Jewish protagonists with some political analysis of the Glasgow Gorbals, Britain and the World in the period from 1931 to 1965.

At the start, we are introduced to the rich but hypocritical idealist, Morris, his best friend Alec, who works in the factory that Morris will eventually inherit from his father, and Alec's fiancée, Miriam. Soon, the circle is completed by the appearance of Sharon who will marry Morris. Between them, they give a broad picture of Jewish life in Glasgow over this period.

The star is Gerald Lepkowski as Morris. Looking like Oscar Wilde and sounding like Billy Connolly, this champagne Communist is a mass of contradictions. He has a world view that he propounds at length involving the setting up of various states that will spread the good word and give equality to all. Unfortunately, he likes the good things in life and while fathering lots of children, he cannot resist women.

He also struggles to come to terms with his religion. He believes in Communism but cannot escape his Jewish heritage. This is personified by his religious conscience, a man whom we do not see, named Serocca. Lepkowski perfectly catches the passions, both intellectual and physical, of this larger than life, selfish but loveable character. The way in which Morris’ vision for a better world becomes disappointed by life is touching. As Alec tells him, he is always banging against a door that will not open.

This strong, passionate man is contrasted well with Alec, a gentle, insecure fellow who fails in his efforts to start a family. This is as likely to be a matter of economy on the part of Miriam as the result of any physical flaw. Their failure is somehow made far more poignant by their insistence on calling each other Father and Mother. Alec is perfectly happy if he sees a bird flying around and willingly does Miriam’s bidding. Michael Wilson gives a sensitive performance while Louise Yates is good as the woman who will always be disappointed.

Taylor's Bread and Butter are contained within the two couples. The stronger, “bread” characters are Morris and Miriam while the “butters” are Alec and Sharon, Emma D’Inverno. It is the lot of the latter to live with, if not approve of, the extreme actions of their spouses.

The play feels far shorter than its two and a quarter-hours and manages to combine politics and human portraits by using a light, metaphorical touch. In a simple set with no more than a bed, a kitchen table and chairs and a park bench, Mark Rosenblatt weaves excellent performances from the whole cast including a sneezing dog that drew "ahhhs" from a very appreciative audience. There are many subtle touches in his direction of actors greatly his senior and he clearly has a great future.